Clemson knocks off Alabama in Tampa to win national championship
Tigers stun top-ranked Crimson Tide, score game-winning TD with 1 second left
TAMPA, Fla. – Clemson ended a 35-year drought Monday night in Tampa, bringing home its first national championship since 1981 after a 35-31 victory against top-ranked Alabama that came down to the final second in the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Tigers scored the go-ahead touchdown when sophomore receiver Hunter Renfrow hauled in a 2-yard catch from junior quarterback Deshaun Watson with one second left on the clock.
Clemson's confetti celebration spoiled Alabama's perfect season and prevented the Crimson Tide from winning their fifth national title in eight seasons, all under head coach Nick Saban.
This time it was Clemson coach Dabo Swinney who hoisted the national championship trophy after the game. Swinney, who won a national championship as a receiver for Alabama's 1992 title team, got the better of his alma mater in a rematch of last season's championship game -- a 45-40 win for the Tide.
Swinney refused to call his team's victory an upset.
"We expected to win the game," Swinney said. "We expected to win it last year."
After Clemson (14-1) took its first lead of the game on a 1-yard score by running back Wayne Gallman with 4:38 to go, Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts drove his team down the field on a six-play, 68-yard drive that culminated with Hurts' 30-yard touchdown run with slightly more than two minutes remaining.
Then Clemson, trailing 31-28, went to work through the air, orchestrating its own 68-yard drive while eating away at the clock. Junior receiver Mike Williams caught a 24-yard pass that put Clemson within field-goal range, but a pass interference call with seven seconds left gave the Tigers a fresh set of downs on the Alabama 2-yard line.
Saban said he was disappointed by the outcome, but he was proud of his players' accomplishments this season.
"One game doesn't define a team, and I think our team demonstrated time and time again this year that they were winners," Saban said.
Alabama (14-1) led 14-0 at one point and went into the locker room leading 14-7 at halftime.
The Tide went three-and-out on their first series, yielding the football to Watson. A personal foul by Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster drew a 15-yard penalty and gave Clemson the ball at the 50-yard line.
After a Clemson timeout, Gallman was stuffed on fourth-and-1, giving Alabama the ball in Clemson territory.
A 15-yard roughing penalty on Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell put Alabama in scoring position. One play after Alabama was penalized for an illegal shift, sophomore running back Bo Scarbrough scored a 25-yard touchdown run, dragging a Clemson defender into the end zone to give the Tide a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Later in the first quarter, Clemson's Tanner Muse blocked JK Scott's punt to shorten the field for the Tigers, but Alabama linebacker Ryan Anderson recovered a fumble by Watson at the Clemson 35-yard line. Clemson's defense kept the Tide out of scoring range, and Alabama sent out its special teams unit. Scott's punt was downed at the Clemson 1-yard line, forcing the Tigers to start from deep in their own territory.
Scarbrough's second touchdown of the night was a 37-yard run down the sideline in the second quarter, giving Alabama a 14-0 lead.
Just when it appeared Alabama might stifle Clemson's offense, the Tigers got on the board thanks to two long receptions for first downs -- Deon Cain's 43-yard haul and tight end Jordan Leggett's 26-yard catch -- to set up Watson's 8-yard touchdown run with 6:09 remaining in the first half, cutting Alabama's lead to 14-7.
Alabama added to its lead after the break with a 27-yard field goal by Adam Griffith, putting the Tide ahead 17-7.
Watson's 24-yard pass to Renfrow, who walked on at Clemson, at the 7:10 mark in the third quarter made it a three-point game, but the Tide answered the call on their next possession. Tight end O.J. Howard scored on a 68-yard touchdown reception with less than two minutes remaining in the quarter, once again stretching Alabama's lead to 10.
Hurts only had 49 yards through the air prior to finding Howard.
Scarbrough left the game with an injury late in the third quarter and didn't return.
"Not to have him was probably a little bit of a disadvantage for us, but I was pleased with the way the other backs that had an opportunity in the game, Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris, played," Saban said.
Williams caught a 4-yard touchdown from Watson in the corner of the end zone to get Clemson back within 3 in the fourth quarter, setting up the dramatic finish in front of a Raymond James Stadium-record 74,512 in attendance.
Watson was the offensive player of the game. He finished 36 of 56 passing for 420 yards and three passing touchdowns to go with his rushing touchdown.
Hurts finished 13 of 31 for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Swinney said he appreciated the congratulations he received from Saban after the game.
"Nick is going to buy my dinner this year, though," Swinney said of his friend. "But I guarantee you, they'll be right back next year, and hopefully we'll have a chance to have a rubber match."
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